Making a Splash in Lexington

Lexington, Kentucky’s Thoroughbred Park sits at the intersection of major routes into downtown and bisects four neighborhoods of very different socioeconomic compositions. In 2015, most of the users of the park were children from a nearby, predominately low-income community who didn’t have other places to play, especially during the sweltering summer months. Children often played in the park’s fountain, despite rules prohibiting this activity. The city government found this behavior, while understandable, both unsanitary and dangerous.

Rather than issue tickets for trespassing, the city eventually embraced the activity as a catalyst for meaningful action. The children’s play in the fountain prompted the city to invest in authentic, local public life and create more play areas for young people in Lexington. The local Downtown Development Association (DDA) initiated a process to engage a wide range of stakeholders, asking them what type of water-play facilities they would be most interested in seeing. With the support of national and community foundations, local designers, and city officials, the DDA and Gehl / Gehl Institute created SplashJAM, a temporary water park near Thoroughbred Park, where the initial play was taking place. The water park included accessibility ramps, picnic tables, and beach umbrellas, as well as on-site changing rooms and restrooms.